Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Calvin Coolidge curbs billboard advertising

I was struck by a recent story about Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States who was said to have, among other things, curbed outdoor advertising.

Turns out this was part of his legacy while Governor of Massachusetts (1918-1920). While he was a Republican, “he supported a cost of living pay for public employees, limited the workweek for women and children to forty-eight hours, placed limits on outdoor advertising, and set up a state budgetary process -- all typical progressive measures.”

In an ironic twist, the outdoor advertising industry named a study after Coolidge. In 1965 C.E. HOOPER for Rollins Advertising Company conducted the Calvin Coolidge study in San Antonio to measure the effects of outdoor advertising. The study measured exposure to and effectiveness of billboards that stated "Calvin Coolidge Was The 30th President". A before an after telephone survey was conducted with 600 respondents who were asked two questions:

> Who was the 30th president? (test question)
> Who was the vice president under Eisenhower? (control question)

Correct answers to the test question were 28.3% after the advertising run up from 4.5% before. Correct answers to the control question remained at the same level, 67.8% before and 65.8% after. (The answer is Nixon btw.)

The Calvin Coolidge study has subsequently reproduced many with similar effect.

While Coolidge may have been cool on outdoor advertising, and cool in general, he was one of the first national politicians to make extensive use of radio and film media. He gave a record 529 press conferences; his inauguration was the first presidential inauguration broadcast on radio; he was the first President whose address to Congress was broadcast on radio; and was the first President to appear in a sound film.

I’d be curious if anyone knows why Coolidge tried to curb outdoor advertising and what effect this had on the industry. Drop a comment if you know.